Asphalt price delays airport project

Posted Sept. 11, 2008, at 9:58 p.m.

OWLSHEAD, Maine — The paving project for a taxiway parallel to the runway at Knox County Regional Airport is unlikely to be finished this year because the price of liquid asphalt has tripled.

Knox County Commissioners this week authorized County Administrator Andrew Hart to draft a “letter of disapproval” to the Federal Aviation Administration with “concerns for public safety.”

A copy of the letter will go to Maine’s congressional delegation.

Airport Manager Jeffrey Northgraves said there would not be time to send the job out for bid again to finish now.

Northgraves in August told the commissioners that energy prices had complicated construction at the airport, particularly paving. He said that general contractor George C. Hall & Sons Inc. had asked the FAA for an escalation for fuel prices but was denied because an escalation clause was not built into the contract.

The Hall Company and subcontractor Marriner Paving said they would potentially go out of business if they continued to do the work at the current prices and virtually stopped.

Northgraves subsequently tried to get the FAA to back off from its stance, but nothing has changed, he said.

According to asphalt prices published weekly by the Maine Department of Transportation, during the summer of 2006, the cost of asphalt was between $300 and $350 a ton. In 2007, the price went down to $300 a ton. But in July 2008, the price had jumped to $800 a ton and is likely to go to $1,000 a ton, Northgraves said.

According to airport consultant Bill Gerrish of Stantec Inc., which oversees airport projects to make sure that everything is done to the level of quality required, the company holds contractors to very strict standards.

Gerrish said that Hall and Marriner’s have done a lot of work at the airport and there have been no issues over quality of work. He said the cost increases were unforeseeable at the time of the bid and up to April 2008.

“Last week, the FAA said it was not going to increase funding,” Northgraves said Tuesday. “We will not have a paving contract.”

The total $4.3 million airport project is 80 percent done, but the paving part is about 20 percent done, Northgraves said.

The Maine DOT told Northgraves it had no money to help finish the job, although he said he still thinks the DOT is his “best bet,” and he vows to keep trying.

Gerrish said having only one runway at an airport is a safety issue because planes coming and going use the same runway.

Northgraves said the airport is still safe to use, and the new carrier coming in November will be able to manage safely.

The U.S. Department of Transportation on July 31 released an order selecting Hyannis Air Service Inc., doing business as Cape Air, to become the scheduled commercial air carrier providing between three and five daily low fare flights between Boston and Knox County Regional Airport, depending upon the time of the year.

The award carries an annual subsidy of $1.5 million for a two-year period beginning when Cape Air inaugurates full air service.

The new service is expected to begin Nov. 1, Northgraves said Friday.

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